Here in northeast Alabama, we have the Coldwater Mountain bike trails, the Pinhoti hiking trail and the Ladiga cycling trail, but now the recreational offerings appear ready to expand into the equestrian arena.
The McClellan Development Authority voted unanimously last week to give 900 acres of the former fort to Calhoun County to create a system of horse trails. MDA members voted to transfer the land for $1 to take advantage of the county’s better insurance coverage.
News of a horse trails project was met with enthusiasm by The Star’s online readers.
“... oooohhh I can't wait. And it's close to home. They've been working on this deal for a while.”
“Nice drive, easy access, and oh my goodness so much land out there has breathtaking views.”
“Great idea for recreational usage”
“We have to go!!!!! I’m so excited!!”
“I’m so happy that they finally approved it! It’s been a work in progress for quite some time now!”
“This would be AMAZING!!!!”
“... I can’t wait. I’m about to become a member of Back Country Horsemen of America, McClellan Chapter, Alabama.”
“... Shoot I may have to take up horse back riding. If it opens up, there could be a money-making opportunity for horse owners … running overnight stables, guided tours … I’m seeing dollars.”
Anniston resident Craig Waldron is a member of the local chapter of the Back Country Horsemen of America, the group that proposed the horse trails. He seemed to support the notion that horse trails at McClellan could be a financial benefit to the local economy.
“Horse people bring a lot of money, and they spend it in stores and restaurants,” he said during the MDA meeting.
The Back Country Horsemen organization is expected to maintain the horse trails once completed.
Keeping with the recreational theme, the MDA at last week’s meeting also approved spending up to $320,000 to construct bike trails near McClellan’s soccer fields.
Additionally, officials have started stocking Lake Yahou with fish, with a plan to return the artificial lake to its previous use as a recreation area.
McClellan closed as a military base in 1999, and officials have spent the last 20 years exploring ways to reinvent the 18,000 acres of land. When Anniston annexed McClellan, it doubled the size of the previously landlocked city, opening up opportunities to recruit big-box stores or possibly create a North Carolina-style research park in partnership with JSU, or both, and more.
Clearing the former military training grounds of unexploded ordnance slowed progress to a snail’s pace, but what was clear at the time was that the local economy needed to diversify.
Today a portion of the land is a protected area for old-growth longleaf pine; a Homeland Security training center occupies several old Army buildings; and industries such as the musical instrument company Howard Core and shooting-sports manufacturer Creedmoor Sports have set up shop at McClellan.
While top-of-the-line retail developments that generate sales tax revenue are always the preference, the scenic expanse of wooded, undeveloped hills toward the south end of McClellan lends itself more to recreation than retail.
It might not be exactly what was envisioned two decades ago when the Base Realignment and Closure commission shut down McClellan, but we could do worse than becoming the recreational hub of northeast Alabama.